What Is Cross-Platform Mobile App Development?

May 31, 2019

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Cross-platform mobile app development is getting more and more popular. It allows us to create an app quicker and spend less money on that. How does it work and who can benefit the most? Learn more about cross-platform mobile apps.

What’s a Cross-platform App?

In the new version of Ionic, a lot of changes are happening in the background. Even so, the way we build applications, for the most part, remains almost the same. What exactly changed in Ionic 4?

Cross-platform mobile app development is a process of creating apps that are compatible with multiple operating systems. While developing a cross-platform app, we use single codebase and publish the app on many platforms instead of writing a separate mobile app for each one of them.

Cross-platform apps are not much different from native apps: they are downloaded from a platform’s app store, they have access to native device’s features. The main difference is that they are built using well-known technologies like JavaScript, CSS, HTML, instead of specialized languages.

Cross-Platform App vs. Native Approach

Native App Development

In the native approach, the code is built for one operating system and it can’t be repurposed for another one. Sometimes we even need a specific code f.ex. for tablets. In case of a cross-platform app, we write one code and then, using a framework, adapt it to each platform.

The native approach provides us with the best performance and User Experience, but it also has issues. The development process is expensive, and it takes a lot of time to create two separate apps. We need to find developers that have specific skills — and that costs. There are also issues connected with project management because it’s hard to develop pieces of code in two different languages at the same pace. Choosing only one platform is also not a good solution, because nowadays we want to reach our potential clients everywhere we can. We also want to provide them with not only the best but also consistent User Experience.

Cross-platform App Development

Cross-platform app development resolves these issues. It makes possible to develop an app faster and to spend less money on that. It’s easier to find experienced developers because these apps are developed using web technologies. The project is easier to manage and organize, and it can be smoothly implemented with Agile methodology. As a result we obtain two apps that look and feel like native ones, but we get them faster, we can appear on the market quicker and expand our reach into two app stores. Cross-platform apps have access to native device’s features (geolocation, camera, etc.) through plugins.

The cross-platform approach is also forward-looking. Now we have a few types of platforms and devices our app should look and run great at, and that number will grow. Especially developing apps with web technologies offers innovative opportunities (look at Progressive Web Apps, this year’s development trend). Cross-platform apps also offer consistent User Experience, and especially Ionic provides great platform continuity. Users move between platforms and devices, and cross-platform apps made with Ionic offer consistency on every device.

Are there any downsides?

Opponents of the cross-platform approach point at the framework’s dependency as an issue. And that’s right that while using a framework we need the vendor to keep up with the latest native design patterns and features — we want our app to look and feel like an up-to-date native one. The solution is to find a framework that is solid and updated often, like f.ex. Ionic Framework.

What about performance? It’s true that native apps provide the best performance possible, but the performance gap in case of cross-platform apps is basically impossible to notice for a user. Choosing the right framework is also essential. For example, the newest version of Ionic Framework, Ionic 4, significantly improved performance thanks to switching to web components. You can read more about it in our article: “Ionic 4 — what’s new?”.

The downside of the cross-platform apps is that by using a framework, we add a layer that can be a cause of bugs. Fortunately, simplified development process and necessity to develop only one codebase gives developers more time to fix bugs and any defects, and also to add more features if there’s a need.

Best Cross-platform Frameworks

The major choice is between two frameworks: Ionic and React Native. How are they different?

React Native is a framework built on the top of ReactJS. Its primary goal is to design highly responsive User Interfaces for iOS and Android with JavaScript. It’s a native widget based framework, so it needs JavaScript to communicate with native components through “bridges”. That allows to render the code without extra wrappers, but the passage is noticeable in animations, so passes over the bridge must be reduced to a minimum. React Native officially supports two platforms: iOS and Android, and it behaves better on Apple devices. It is known for high performance, but the performance on Android is lower, and there are more bugs. In case of React Native, we can’t reuse the entire codebase for both platforms — some parts need to be written separately for each platform.

Ionic, on the other hand, is a WebView based framework that allows developers to build mobile apps with web technologies: HTML, CSS, JavaScript. The Ionic Framework allows building multiple platform apps with a single codebase, which is totally reusable. We write once, and it runs everywhere. Ionic apps are fast to develop because the framework offers a rich library of components and possibility to reduplicate code easily. Ionic apps are cheaper to develop than React Native ones, because of the code reusability and higher development speed. The Ionic Framework is well known for working with Angular, but in the newest version is framework independent.

Cross-platform Apps With Ionic Framework

Ionic accelerates the development even 2–3x than in case of native approach. Ionic apps can run everywhere the web runs — they are omnichannel and work as mobile apps or PWAs, on a desktop, on a mobile browser. The app automatically adapts to each platform.

Ionic Framework offers many ready-to-use components, extensible options, and beautiful themes. The framework allows us to use appropriate styles, behaviours, and provides a collection of components that look and feel like native ones for an excellent front-end experience. We also gain access to all of the native device’s capabilities and hardware features, using plugins. The most popular are open source Cordova Plugins, but they are also a little hard to use. Ionic offers solution to that problem: Ionic Native is a library with the most common plugins, that are easy to use and updated frequently.

What our developers say about the benefits of creating a cross-platform app with Ionic?

The most significant advantage is that you don’t need to write any separate code for each platform — you only write the code once. What is more, Ionic allows you to use your skills in creating web apps to write excellent mobile apps. Besides, with Ionic, you can create 90% of your app at the computer and testing or changing things can be done really quickly.

Creating an app with the Ionic Framework cuts your costs and decreases the development time. The process is a lot easier, especially for startups. A cross-platform app made with Ionic Framework allows you to build your success on a polished mobile app with flawless, native-like UX.

Looking for A Cross-Platform App Developers?

At Appstronauts, we can provide you with a team of experienced cross-platform app developers. They will advise you on the best technology stack for your project. Why you may want to work with us? This year, Clutch named us a top app developer in Poland and TechReviewer listed us among the best software developers in the world. You can benefit from the knowledge of our developers and business growth team. We would like to be your partner and advisor, not just vendor.


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